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IV Media Justice

Drawing and Effacing Boundaries in Contemporary Media Democracy Work

Christina Dunbar-Hester

In recent years, particularly in the wake of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a movement has emerged whose goal is to change the media system in the United States. This movement developed out of a regulatory environment favoring national broadcasting networks and corporate media consolidation, embedded practices of community media production and pirate radio, Indymedia and the transnational “antiglobalization” movement, and the emergence of “new media” including the Internet.1 However, due to the heterogeneity of its constituents and the way in which it overlays other, related social justice agendas, the “media democracy movement” represents a “variegated, even chaotic field of collective action.”2 Based on ethnographic research at sites where these constituents of the media democracy movement interact, this chapter sketches out key loci of intervention, including radical activist, “reform,” and scholarly agendas.3

This chapter focuses on the relational positioning of these different groups that each envision their actions to be in support of media democracy. Media activists and other kinds of advocates, including scholars, consider their work to be in service of wider, movement-level goals and a general notion of the public good; however, the various movement actors frequently find themselves experiencing difficulty collaborating with other groups who nominally share their goals for social change through critique of the media system. In examining the attempts of groups—including social scientists, media activists, and policy advocates—to collaborate, the chapter will explore resources on which actors draw: “boundary work” to establish differences between groups and an opposite impulse, which I call “boundary effacement,” to reconcile them.4 These complementary practices of asserting difference between groups on the one hand, and assigning coherence to their projects on the other, constitute a key dynamic of the movement for media democracy.

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